Publicis and WPP discuss ZenithOptimedia's franchises

LONDON - The future of several ZenithOptimedia offices across the world has yet to be resolved despite Publicis acquiring full control of the media network this week.

WPP sold its 25 per cent shareholding, which it had picked up as part of its Cordiant acquisition, to Publicis. However, it said it will retain interests in nine ZenithOptimedia offices that were run by Cordiant under a franchise agreement.

John Perriss, the worldwide chief executive of ZenithOptimedia, said WPP still retains controlling stakes in ZenithOptimedia franchises in six markets: Argentina, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indo-China, Norway and India.

However, he added that Publicis and WPP "were engaged in dialogue" over the future of these offices. Publicis, which now owns 100 per cent of ZenithOptimedia, wants either to buy the operations or, where this is not possible, to cancel the agreement.

Sources close to the discussions said "there is every chance a deal will happen". This is likely to involve WPP receiving a further £10m for selling the businesses.

WPP was paid £75m for the Cordiant stake in ZenithOptimedia under the terms of a long-term option open to Publicis until the end of this year. The sale means that Cordiant has now raised £160m from disposals against a net debt level of £235m.

Perriss said the sale of Cordiant's 25% was good news for ZenithOptimedia: "This has been on the agenda and, frankly, Publicis is not very good at sharing. There has been quite a constraint in the development of ZenithOptimedia, in particular in cooperating with Starcom MediaVest Group."

Publicis' acquisition of the stake follows its concerted battle for control of Cordiant against WPP. Reports suggested Publicis' chief executive, Maurice Levy, had fallen out with the WPP group chief executive, Sir Martin Sorrell, during the bidding process for Cordiant and over the potential value of Cordiant's stake in ZenithOptimedia.

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